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Strengthening America's High Schools

(Page 3 of 3)

Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., has established a $100,000 fund to reward four outstanding high school teachers each year with Olmsted Prizes of $1 ,000 each. The purpose of the prizes is to encourage excellence in high school teaching.

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Professional organizations, private schools. On their own initiative or spurred by educational commissions, professional organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and others have in recent years undertaken the revision and upgrading of high school courses in their fields, sometimes developing better texts and detailed instructors' guides to improve teaching.

Private preparatory schools have also found ways to help public high schools.For example, Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts has just completed its third season of instruction designed to strengthen math skills of inner-city students and teachers.

Corporations. Adopt-A-School and similar corporate programs donate the services of banking, business, and engineering experts to schools. This year industry leaders in Boston agreed to hire public high school graduates on the condition that they come equipped with needed working skills.

General volunteerism. School Volunteers of America matches volunteers' and retirees' talents with school needs.

Museums increasingly design and carry out hands-on learning programs for schools.

More than 95,000 Americans serve their communities as school board members. All contribute long hours. Some are subject to intense pressure as they try to sort out and reconcile the conflicting views of their constituents. Most receive no pay.

Parents in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul voluntarily teach minicourses, develop enrichment programs, tutor students, hear book reports, work in school libraries, and attend teacher-oriented in-service workshops, all without financial remuneration.

Philanthropic foundations. The Ford Foundation, in particular, has responded to needs of city high schools. In 1982 the foundation granted a total of $1 million to 50 high schools in 30 cities.

From such evidences of goodwill and support, it is possible to conclude that public high schools have a great many resources to draw on as they undertake needed areas of improvement, even if increased funding isn't forthcoming.

Recommendations from afar won't fit every high school. The real work of upgrading must start at the community level:

* Concerned citizens should learn enough about their local high school to figure out what needs to be done.

* They should hold the school board accountable for appointing a superintendent and principal who will promote a better climate for learning within the school.

* They should appreciate and adequately pay the best teachers, while calling for the retraining of those who are not performing their assignments well.

* Parents should insist upon consistent application of energy to schoolwork and students should cooperate in the educational endeavor, which is for their benefit.

Maybe it won't happen all at once, but it can begin.

One priority remains paramount: marshaling recources to strengthen America's high schools, so that today's, and tomorrow's, teen-agers can avoid past pitfalls and help create a better future.